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LETTER I.: General and preliminary Observations. - Gabriel Bonnet Abbé de Mably, Remarks concerning the Government and Laws of the United States of America: in Four Letters addressed to Mr. Adams 
Remarks concerning the Government and Laws of the United States of America: in Four Letters addressed to Mr. Adams, with Notes by the Translator (Dublin: Moncrieffe, 1785).
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General and preliminary Observations.
I have just read, with all the attention which it was in my power to pay the subject, the different constitutions formed by the United States of America for their respective uses; and, in obedience to your desire, I do myself the honor to submit to your perusal my sentiments concerning them; but not without expressing my hopes that you will obligingly point out to me the light in which I ought to view them.
Whilst almost every European nation remains plunged in ignorance respecting the constitutive principles of society, and only regards the people who compose it as cattle upon a farm managed for the particular and exclusive benefit of the owner, we become at once astonished and instructed by the circumstance that your thirteen republics have, in the same moment, discovered the real dignity of man, and proceeded to draw from the sources of the most enlightened philosophy those humane principles on which they mean to build their forms of government.
Happily for you, the kings of England, when granting to your ancestors charters for the establishment of your colonies, suffered themselves to be guided by their prejudices and their passions; and were actuated solely by ideas which sprang from avarice and ambition* . By disengaging themselves from a multitude of citizens, who hung upon them like a dead weight, they saw before them the rise and establishment of new provinces destined to increase the majesty of the British empire. At the same time, they flattered themselves with the prospect of opening a fresh source of riches for the commerce of the mother-country; and felt a desire to lead you forward to prosperity, in order that they might enjoy even more than yourselves the benefits attendant on its progress. You must have been lost beyond redemption, had these princes proved sufficiently conversant with the baneful politics of a Machiaval to impose laws upon you of service to the purposes of their ambition. Their ignorance was your singular advantage. Not wandering from the track of government in England, they introduced, amongst your ancestors, rules and laws of administration, which, by perpetually keeping alive your recollection that you were the descendants of a free people, invited you to become busied in a close attention to your common interests. During a long period, you were sacrificed to the interests of the parent-state; and you regarded this offering as a tribute of which justice demanded the payment, in return for an extended and (to yourselves) a necessary protection. Subsequent to the last war, during the course of which the French lost their whole possessions on your continent, you discovered that your masters were become enfeebled even by their victories; you felt, at length, your own powers; whilst the court of London, insensible of the change which her interests and yours had undergone, essayed to cast more galling burthens upon a yoke that pressed too heavily against you; yet, in despite of this attempt, you had inducements to hope not only for the enjoyment of a happier lot, but for the acquisition of the means of erecting yourselves into an independent power.
Consulting, in points where you should have been materially connected, only their avarice and ambition, they thus constrained you to remember that you were Englishmen; and the form of government, to which you had been accustomed from your birth, has rendered the people capable of understanding and feeling the force of the remarks and instructions of meritorious characters, who, in consequence of the exertion of their talents, their prudence, and their intrepidity, became the authors of your fortunate revolution. “Since England” (have they observed) “supposed herself intitled to proscribe the house of Stuart, in order to raise the house of Hanover to the throne, what consideration should forbid us to throw off the yoke of George the Third, whose government, more intractable and severe than the government of James the Second, imposes cruelly upon our generorosity and our zeal?” The United States of America have conducted themselves with more magnanimity than the United Provinces of the Low-Countries. Far from soliciting, like them, in every quarter, for a new master, your efforts were directed solely to the act of raising amongst yourselves a throne sacred to liberty. In all your constitutions, you re-ascended to the principles of nature; you have established, as a certain axiom, that all political authority derives its origin from the people; and that in the people alone rests the unalienable right of either enacting, annulling, or modifying laws, in the moment when they perceive their error, or aspire to the enjoyment of some greater good. You know the dignity of human-kind; and, considering the magistrates of society merely as its delegates and agents, you have united and inviolably attached all the citizens to each other and to the public welfare, by the active sentiment and impulse arising from the love of your country and of liberty. May these ideas prove more than the effects of transient fondness! May they shed their happiest influence over all your deliberations, and cement and strengthen, from day to day, the foundations of your fœderal republic!
It is a great advantage for the Americans, that the thirteen States have not confounded together their rights, their independence and their freedom, for the purpose of forming but one republic, establishing the same laws, and acknowledging the same magistrates. I should suppose myself to have discovered in this conduct of the colonies a certain fear; a certain distrust (unfortunately ominous) of themselves, and, in particular, a rooted ignorance of that which constitutes the real power of society. Amidst this vast extent of country which you possess, how could it have been possible firmly to have established the empire of the laws; to have prevented the several springs of administration from becoming relaxed, in consequence of their distance from that centre to which they were indebted for their powers of motion; and, equally to have cast the same vigilant eye through every quarter, for the purpose of either hindering abuses, or forcing them to disappear? Unavoidably must you have perceived a relaxation of manly firmness; a degradation of morals; a love of liberty giving ground to licentiousness; and soon would you have degenerated into a republic, either languishing through all its frame, or agitated by seditions, which must totally have dismembered it. The contrary measure which the colonists have adopted, by forming a fœderal republic, each preserving its independence, may impart to laws the whole of that force which is so necessary to secure for them an inviolable respect. In every place the magistrate may be present. This truth you have experienced, during the seven years whilst the English were rashly engaged in the prosecution of a war, of which the object was to reduce you to unconditional submission. Then did an emulation arise through all the United States, which inspired them with the same courage and with the same wisdom. Bound together by the great link of a continental Congress, not even a single one of your provinces has wavered in the execution of its duty; but all exerted themselves in mutually contributing to the aid of all.
Cordially do I wish that this earliest sense of union and of concord, which you have inherited from your birth, may deeply strike its root, and grow powerful in your hearts; that time and the continuing experience of those benefits which you enjoy may convince you that it is not possible for you to be happy at the expence of each other. One inestimable advantage which I look for, as the natural result of your federation, is, that you will become preserved from that wretched and abominable ambition which induces all nations to regard their neighbors as their enemies. At ease, and under the protection of the continental Congress, happy in your mutual and perfect security, you will rise superior to the emotions of the least jealousy, the least envy and the least hatred; and you will present in America the same spectacle which the people of Switzerland held up to Europe; to Europe that wants the wisdom to admire them.
The continental Congress, this new Amphictionic council* , formed, indeed, under happier auspices than that of ancient Greece, must become the common centre where all the particular interests will mingle into one mass, for the purpose of constituting a general, perpetual, and Invariable interest. In this august assembly, the delegates of the States must, necessarily, acquire the most extended and social views, which, at their return, they will communicate to their fellow citizens. May all the provinces which are circumscribed by settled limits, such as Massachusets, Connecticut, Rhode-Island, New-Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, feel no inconvenience or burthen from the intervention of a circumstance which is, nevertheless, an honor to any nation! I speak of that fortunate abundance of citizens, who, sometimes, become a charge to the very government on which they still reflect the highest credit. May these states whom I have mentioned renovate that brilliant spectacle which, during ancient times, arose in Greece, when her prosperous colonies constituted in every quarter a new country! I hope that, far from unworthily availing themselves of the multitude of their citizens, in order to acquire conquests, they will send them into such of your provinces as have (if I may venture on the expression) no bounds on the continent, and of which the lands are much in need of cultivators. These plantations will hold in closer and more indissoluble links your union and your interests.
I feel a pleasure in calling up to your remembrance each circumstance which may contribute to the felicity of America. You entered upon the possession of independence, without ceasing to continue strangers to ambition; and, surely, you will not imitate those European states who have fallen into depopulation, and, of course, into imbecility, by struggling, with force of arms, to fix the settlement and unconditional submission of their Colonies. You know too well the rights of men and nations to suffer barbarous errors, the wretched offsprings of fiefs and chivalry, to impose upon your understandings, as they have deluded the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the English and the French. It is with particular satisfaction that I observe that you now find yourselves in a predicament even more fortunate than the situation of the ancient republics, of whom we admire the wisdom and the virtue; and that you may with less labor imprint on your establishments a character of stability which renders laws more dear and more respectable.
You are not (Sir!) to be told that the ancient republics were, in a manner, shut up within the walls of the same town, and possessed but an inconsiderable district of territory. All the citizens might, without difficulty, collect themselves together at public deliberations; and these numerous assemblies, in which was resident the legislative power, and against which no person enjoyed the privilege of appealing, were exposed to all the convulsive motions of passion, of infatuation, and of enthusiasm, by which the public order is so frequently deranged. In the midst of these caprices, the laws did not acquire an authority sufficient to mark out and firmly establish the character of the citizens; and, frequently, was the republic indebted for its precarious safety either to good fortune or to some great man who arrived to administer succor to the people, and availed himself of the general consternation, in order to prevent, in future, an abuse of power.
On the contrary, the multitude, amongst the Americans, will prove much less presuming, much less imperious, and, of course, much less inconstant; because the extent of the domains of each republic and the number of its citizens do not admit of the possibility of their assembling all at one time, and in the same place. You have adopted the modern method of dividing the countries into cantons or districts, which deliberate, apart, concerning their respective interests; themselves appointing, and investing with their delegated powers the citizens whom they judge the most worthy of representing them in the legislative assembly of the republic. From this circumstance must you become more easily enabled to keep all arrangements in their proper order. Never will the representatives form so large a number as to occasion the danger of their degenerating into a confused and over-crouded multitude. They will stand in awe of the public opinion? and perpetually recollect that they must become accountable for their proceedings to their constituents. Even their mistakes will prove, at worst, a transient evil, because their election is but annual. And thus their errors will serve to enlighten their successors, who may amend the faults of those who went before them. I rejoice to find that, in all your constitutions, you have most religiously respected those rights which were inherent to the people. These constitutions have even taken under their protection those individuals who are not yet members of the republic; because they do not contribute to its expences, and have sold the labor of their hands to masters, With regard to men under the denomination of slaves; men so despised amongst the ancients; men who, at this æra, although bearing, in Europe, the empty name of freemen, languish under actual bondage, you have had the fortunate address to attach them to the fate of the republic, by furnishing them with the means of emerging from their situation, and of acquiring a property; a property, which, being the fruit of honest industry, may raise them to the rank and dignity of citizens.
It is in consequence of having followed up these great principles of humanity, that you adopted, under a particular and authentic decree, as a part of your constitutions, the form of trials by juries; a process that includes all which the wisdom of man could have devised to establish between the powerful and the weak, a kind of equality, or (to speak in clearer terms) an actual equality. You have confirmed each citizen in the enjoyment of this first and most essential security, which places him above the grasp of enemies more mighty than himself. Even the magistrate cannot prostitute his power to the service and gratification of his particular passions, under the insidious pretence of watching over the preservation of the public safety. Without exaggerating the point, might we remark that, amongst the majority of the states of Europe, a criminal jurisprudence has been instituted only for the sake of suffering the government either to screen the guilty, whom it might basely feel an interest in saving, or to destroy its innocent enemies even by an administration of that ostensible justice which is rendered shockingly subservient to its will. You do not experience (and Heaven forbid that you ever should experience!) these clandestine and secret proceedings, capable or so intimidating innocence that it may become confused, troubled, checked, crossed and driven from that cool presence of mind, that tranquil possession of itself which is indispensably requisite for the convincing and successful management of its vindication. You will always remember that, by an endeavor to deprive you of the beneficent security resulting from juries, in order to render you amenable to a London tribunal, England has struggled to cast you down beneath the violence and the pressure of ber tyranny. You perceive that to this salutary jurisprudence the English are indebted for the remains of liberty which they as yet enjoy, and for that national spirit which supports them, even in their decline. Whilst the great and the opulent are base enough to sell themselves to ministers, what would become of the nation, were the people once deprived of the protection of juries, and thrown open and defenceless to that oppression which never ceases to accompany all arbitrary judgments? The nation would lose its intrepidity and haughtiness: these last resources of England* . The United States of America can have nothing to fear upon this account, if they never cease to recollect that the authors of their first constitutions have recommended to the legislative power the care of tempering and rendering more lenient those laws which are too severe; which either debase or alarm the heart; and which, not being proportioned to the nature of crimes, can only lead citizens less enlightened and incapable of reasoning upon the subject into a multitude of errors. Such men have no ideas of morality except those which are imparted to them by the laws; they will perplex themselves concerning the nature of their duties, and not discover what are the vices the perpetration of which it behoves them the most studiously to avoid.
Having signified my hopes, it will not become me to conceal my fears. I subscribe to your opinion that a democracy ought to serve as the basis of every government, the leading views of which are to facilitate and accomplish the best possible arrangements in favor of the citizens. And, indeed, perpetual experience has convinced us that it is only by this mode that the multitude can learn to feel an interest in the welfare of their country, and, serving it with equal zeal and courage, to associate themselves, in some degree, with the wisdom of their conductors. Yet, at the same time, you, doubtless, will allow that this democracy must be managed, attempered and established with the greatest prudence. Let me intreat you to keep in view the incontrovertible position that the multitude, degraded by various wants and those particular occupations which condemn them to remain plunged in ignorance, and overwhelmed with low and abject sentiments, enjoy neither the means, the leisure, nor the opportunity to raise themselves, by their meditations, into the power of investigating and following up the principles of a well-regulated system of judicious politics. Suffering themselves to be governed intirely by their prejudices, they will measure their judgment concerning the welfare of the state by their own particular interests, and ascribe wisdom to that alone which they have found useful.
It is not possible for the people to suppose themselves free without experiencing an inclination to abuse their liberty, because the nature of their passions continually stimulates their endeavours to live more at ease. The hopes which they indulge prepare their minds for greater indocility; they cannot avoid envying the lot of their superiors, and, consequently, they become anxious either to exalt themselves into equal eminence, or to reduce those citizens who are above them to a level with themselves. What follows? Those of the first class have, also, their passions, which (if I may use the expression) take fire at the pretended insolence of the people. They will accuse them of forming projects for their own aggrandisement, even whilst they yield only to the current of arising circumstances. They must endeavour to appease, and they will irritate them. For the purpose of preserving their credit, they will seek to augment it; and (such is the delusion of the passions! that) aspiring soon to tyranny, they will consider themselves as labouring firmly to establish the public peace and order. On these occasions, the temper becomes exasperated; to the first injustice succeeds, of course, a second; and one injury treads quick upon another. The only system of politics becomes revenge. Revolutions follow each other, and fortune alone decides concerning the fate of the republic. Arguing in this manner, I cannot easily suppose that I am led away by groundless apprehensions. The occurrences which have constantly taken place, amidst all nations, where the liberty of the citizens was not established and fostered with a degree of prudence equal to that recorded to have prevailed at Lacedæmon, ought to serve as a lesson to legislators not to employ democracy in a republic, but with extreme precaution.
I shall, perhaps, be told, that the laws of America are borrowed from the laws of England, the wisdom of which has proved a theme of praise and admiration to a multitude of writers. I grant the fact; but, for the sake of your happiness, I wish that it were possible to dispute it. In your laws do we perceive the spirit of the English laws; but, let me intreat you to take notice of the prodigious difference which exists between your situation and that of England. The English government received its form in the very midst of the barbarism of the fiefs. It was imagined that William the Conqueror and his successors alone possessed the whole public power; and so far were the People from not supposing that they were born to servitude, that even the barons conceived that they held their prerogatives as dependent upon the munificence of their prince. It is a truth which cannot be disputed, after an attentive perusal of the Great Charter which the barons extorted from John Lackland, and which became, at once, the principle of all the convulsive motions experienced by the nation, and the rule of conduct to which it has adhered even to the present time, for the purpose of establishing the liberty it still enjoys. Thus, by slow degrees, was formed the national character of the English. Each became gradually habituated to the station which he fills, and long custom has associated the ambition of the prince and the freedom of the subject.
The United States of America attained to their present form by a manner totally different; and their laws are not the work of many ages and of a thousand contrary circumstances which have succeeded to each other. The commissioners or delegates, who regulated their constitutions, adopted the true and wise principles of Locke, concerning the natural liberty of man and the nature of government. But, was not the passage from the situation in which you found yourselves under the dominion of England to that wherein you now stand rather too unexpected, rapid and abrupt? I fear lest the minds of your countrymen should not have been sufficiently prepared for its reception: and I have, frequently, remarked, to several of your fellow-citizens, that I felt myself too sincerely concerned in whatsoever fortune might attend them not to wish for such a war as, by its length, must tend to the correction of their prejudices, and inspire them with all those qualities which ought peculiarly to constitute the characteristics of a free people.
Give me leave to ask you, whether, in the formation of your new laws, you have taken care to render them properly commensurate with the understanding, propensities and passions of the multitude, which is never sufficiently enlightened to draw the line between liberty and licentiousness. Has not more been promised to them than you are either inclined or able to perform? If it be true that, as a natural result of your connection with England, a seed of aristocracy has arisen amongst you, which will continually endeavour to increase and to extend itself, does it not follow that you have acted rather with imprudence by attempting to establish too unqualified a democracy? This were to throw the laws and manners into a state of contradiction against each other. In my opinion, you would have adopted a less exceptionable plan, if, instead of awakening, by the intimation of splendid prospects, the ambition and the hopes of the people, you had simply proposed that they should emancipate themselves from the yoke of the court of London; and that they should confine their obedience to those magistrates to whom the mediocrity of fortune might have suggested the necessity of conducting themselves with modesty, implanting, at the same moment, in their hearts, so sincere and friendly an attachment to the public welfare, as must lead them to regulate the rights of their fellow-citizens in such a manner, as not to leave them any room to dread even the most trivial exertion of injustice. In particular, was it requisite to throw fetters upon the aristocracy, and to enact laws for the purpose of preventing the rich from making a criminal and pernicious use of their opulence, and from buying an authority which ought never to belong to them.
I should imagine that the American constitutions must have placed you in the same predicament wherein the Romans stood at the period immediately subsequent to the expulsion of the Tarquins. In order to attach the people to the cause of liberty, the patricians amused them with the most pompous promises. They seized upon the whole power of the state, whilst the plebeians flattered themselves that, on their side, no obedience would be exacted from them which was not due, particularly to the laws. The first made an abandoned use of their authority and weight; the last were too high spirited to assent to this encroachment* ; and thus, from such opposing interests arose all the dissentions which predominated in the public forum.
You, certainly, will answer that it is no misfortune for the United States of America to resemble the Romans, whose republic has presented us with a grand and admirable spectacle, and established its empire over every part of the world to which its arms had reached. I shall beg leave to answer that, in fact, the present age does not produce a nation which would not feel ample reason to console themselves on their resemblance to the Romans in their faults, provided that the similitude held equally between them with respect to those actions which bore the marks of greatness, of wisdom and of magnanimity* . But, unfortunately, our modern manners will not permit us any longer to indulge such hopes; and these manners have passed over to America. The love of the country, of liberty and of glory never forsook the Romans, even in the moments when their excesses were carried to extremes; and all their passions were accustomed to associate themselves with justice and with moderation. Long has the political system of Europe, founded upon a thirst for gold and the unlimited extension of commerce, driven from amongst us all the ancient virtues; nor could I venture to affirm that a war of seven years has proved the instrument of effecting their revival in America. Be this as it may, I dread lest the rich should become inclined to form themselves into an order apart, and to take possession of all power whatsoever, whilst the others, pluming themselves upon the expected attainment of that equality with the prospect of which they had been flattered, would not consent to such innovations; and hence must necessarily result the dissolution of that government which the opulent shall have endeavoured to establish. Were such a revolution to take place without any considerable disorder, any material notice, or marked attention to the accompanying circumstances, it would afford a proof that the firm energy of the mind was totally extinct; and notwithstanding that, in this case, no tumult, no violence of opposition would shake the peace of the republic, it might be asked: to what noble exertions, to what generous efforts could the citizens thenceforward prove capable of proceeding? And without the aid of these qualities, is it possible that true liberty can exist?
On the contrary, were this change to meet with some resistance, what cabals, what intrigues, what dark designs should we have cause to apprehend! Hence, do I perceive resulting, hatred, jealousy, passions which overleap all limits, and drag after them in their train, a thousand other vices, the precursors of a tyranny, at this moment audacious, and, at the next moment, pusillanimous.
Even whilst I have brought on another question for discussion, must I conclude a a letter which (I have cause to fear) may prove too long. In that which I shall have the honor of writing to you to-morrow, I will take the liberty to impart to you either my reflexions or my scruples concerning the laws of Pennsylvania, of Massachusets, and of Georgia. Why should I attempt to conceal from you my apprehensions and my doubts, since they are calculated to convince you how much I have at heart the cause and interests of America, and how greatly I think myself indebted to you for the favorable opinion with which you have been pleased to honour me?
Passy, July 24th, 1783.
[* ] We doubtless, should allow too much to this remark by calling it indisputable. The original charaters granted to the American colonists, far from being dictated by the prejudices, passions, ambition and avarice of kings, were congenial with the pure spirit of the British constitution. Nor do the Americans appear to have complained of their primitive nature and views, but of their subsequent violation. K.
[* ] Greece enjoyed the advantage of a supreme council, composed of delegates (from the principal cities) who were called Amphictiones, after Amphiction, the son of Deucalion, and king of Athens, who instituted this memorable assembly† ; framed and gave the force of laws to its respective statutes; marked out the nature and extension of its powers, and appointed the cities which were to send to it their several representatives. At the expiration of one hundred and forty years from the establishment of this institution, Acrisins, the son of Abas, and king of Argos, increased the privileges of the Amphictiones, augmented the number of the cities impowered to elect deputies, and somewhat altered the constitution and form of this assembly. Under these different epochs, several writers have made a distinction of two kinds of Amphictiones; the ancient Amphictiones, established by Amphiction, and the new Amphictiones, instituted by Acrisins. But, in fact, the King of Argos only matured into perfection the less accomplished plans of the king of Athens. Authors of the best authority (and, amongst these, Strabo and Fausanias) mention twelve of these Amphictionic elective bodies. Æschines, indeed, confines the number to eleven, completing which were the Thessalians, the Beotians, the Dorians, the Ionians, the Pyreubeans, the Magnesians, the Locrians, the Oerians, the Phriotes, the Maleans and the Phoceans. Probably, the name of one of these people may have been lost through the negligence of the transcribers; nor is it unnatural to presume that, in this list, the Dolpes were included. It is, at least, certain, from the testimonies of the ancients, that the Dolopes enjoyed the rights and privileges of the Amphictiones. A modern author* imagines (and, not without some tolerable foundation) that, during the infancy of this establishment, and even for a considerable time beyond it, the Delphians and their neighbours alone enjoyed the privilege of sitting within the assembly of the Amphictiones, to the exclusion of all the other more remote people of Greece; that then only the twelve Cities, named by the ancient writers, were intitled to aspire to this dignity; but that, afterwards, the extreme need in which all the Greeks stood of mutual assistance brought each into the equal and full attainment of this honor; and that such was the intention of the founder, who instituted this assembly with the view of creating and inviolably preserving a firm union amongst all the Greeks; and of thus rendering the welfare and the security of Greece durable for ages. It appears from a decree of the Amphictiones (as handed down to us by Demosthenes, that this company was stiled the “Common Tribunal of all the the Greeks:” and, in fact, it was the General Assembly of Greece† . Each city, invested with Amphictonic rights, elected and sent two delegates to the States-General. Of these, one was commissioned to watch over the interests of religion; for, the Amphictiones were, likewise, the protectors of the Oracle of Delphos, and the guardians of the great treasures of the temple. The other, acted as the orator deputed to Pylæ, or Thermopylæ. Frequently, a delegation from each of the confederated bodies amounted to three or four persons; but, how numerous soever they might have been, even the whole did not enjoy more than two deliberate voices in the assembly. The Phoceans were excluded from it, because, following the examples of their chiefs, Onomarchus and Phayllus, they had pillaged the temple of Delphos. Philip, the father of Alexander, became the instrument of the vengeance of the Greeks against the people of Phocis, during the progress of the sacred war. He insisted that, as a recompence of gratitude, they should make over to him and to his descendants the vacant seat; nor could the Amphictiones summon up the virtuous intrepidity to oppose the unjustifiable pretensions of a monarch, whom the extent and magnitude of conquest had raised into the object of universal apprehension. In the sequel, the Phoceans obliterated the turpitude of their degradation, by preserving the temple of Delphos from the ravages of the Gauls, who, under the command of Brennus, had marched into the States of Greece. This act of religion proved the means of re-instating the Phoceans in the seat of which their sacrilege had deprived them; and they, again, composed a part of the aggregate body of the nation. This supreme tribunal of Greece, the representative body of the States General, assembled twice during the course of the year; in autumn, at Thermopylæ, within a temple consecrated to Ceres, in the midst of an extensive plain, near the banks of the river Asopus; and, in spring, in the temple of Delphos, sacred to Apollo. This tribunal may be said to have collected all the Greeks into one representative body; to have united the republics (independent, except on this account, of each other) for the advancement of the same object: the truly virtuous and exalted object of preserving, with unsullied firmness, a state of mutual peace, and of defending their liberty against the encroachments of the Barbarians; and to have enjoyed the power of concerting, of resolving and ordaining the execution of those matters which might, in their opinion, appear likely to advance the welfare of the common cause. The Amphictiones bound themselves, by a solemn oath, to aim at the advancement of the public welfare of Greece, and to preserve from all injury, profanation and dishonor the temple of Delphos. Whilst this body subsisted, each member, admitted to a seat, took the following oath, in full assembly.
“I swear never to destroy any of these cities which are honoured with Amphictionic rites; and not to turn the course of their rivers, in times either of peace or war. Should any people attempt to execute an enterprise of this flagitious nature, lengage myself, under the most sacred conditions, to invade with all the violence of hostilities, their several domains; to reduce their towns and villages to ashes, and to treat them, in every respect, as my implacable and cruel enemies. Should any man become so impious as to dare to steal any of the rich offerings consecrated at Delphos, within the temple of Apollo, or even to facilitate the measures of another in the commission of this abominable crime, whether by lending him the least succour, or only by advising him, I will use my feet, my hands, and all my powers, to bring down vengeance upon the head of so sacrilegious an offender. Should any person or persons endeavour to compel me to violate the oath which I have taken, whether this outrage proceed from a particular individual, or from a city, or from a nation, may this particular individual, or this city, or this nation be, thenceforward, considered as execrable; and, under this predicament, may they feel the avenging rage of Apollo, of Diana, of Latona, and of Minerva the Provident! May their land continue perpetually barren! May their women, instead of bringing forth children the images of their fathers, bear only monsters! And may even the animals, ceasing to produce the young of their species, each engender the most unnatural and frightful fœtus! May these sacrilegious miscreants feel the bitterness of calamity attendant upon all their fruitless undertakings! Should they engage in any war, may they become plunged in irrecoverable captivity! May the conquerors raze their dwellings even to the ground, and put them, their wives, their children, their families and all their connexions to the sword! If, perchance, a single one should escape from this destruction, may he never offer, with acceptance, a sacrifice either to Apollo, or to Latona, or to Minerva the Provident! And may these divinities look with horrer and disdain upon their prayers and their oblations*!” In some respects, the General Diet of Germany bears a resemblance to these ancient States General of Greece. In the United Provinces of the Low-Countries, and in the Helvetic Body, we may trace a still stronger similitude to the perpetual confederation of the Achæans. K.
[† ] Fifteen hundred and nineteen years previous to the commencement of the Christian æra; and six hundred and six years before the foundation of Rome.
[* ] See “Dissertation sur les Amphyctions,” in the third volume of “L’Histoire de l’Academie des Belles-Lettres de Paris,” from the hundred and ninety-first to the two hundred and twenty-seventh page. This part is written by Valois.
[† ] Cicero, in his second Book, “De Inventione,” calls it “Commune
[* ] See “Science du Gouvernement,” by M. De Real.
[* ] The trial by juries is, certainly, a great Palladium of our liberty; yet, not to this alone, but to other flourishing and totally unviolated principles of our constitution are we obliged for (what the Abbé de Mably appears inclined to call the remnant of our) freedom; freedom, which is, perhaps, safer from the reflexion, natural to despotic minds, that the birthrights of others have not been stricken at with impunity. In this, as in all other countries, numbers of the great and rich will sell themselves to kings and ministers; but it is not their strong arm which can pull down the fabric, or even shake the pillars of the constitution. The attempt is equally beyond what any set of tyrants in England would dare to prosecute, or the majority of its inhabitants would suffer. Courage may, indeed, prove one of the ultimate (and successful) resources of the latter; but, it must start up more as the effect than cause; as the fruit of an impassioned, practical and invincible regard for public virtue! Let the collective body of the people cultivate this; or, rather, let them unite it with all the private excellencies of the heart, and no despotism shall ever shake them. They shall become truly greater, although the dismembered portion of a once-extended empire, than they could justly call themselves in all their former plenitude of power. K.
[* ] The inflexible resolution with which the plebeians opposed a most atrocious set of tyrants, and, in some measure, secured their privileges from invasions which were calculated, ultimately, to destroy them, appears to merit even a more favourable description. Of the shameful inequality which prevailed in the division of lands between the patricians and the plebeians, and of the monopolizing avarice of the former, we have a striking picture in the words of Livy* . “Auderentne postulare ut quum bina jugera agri plebi dividerenter ipsis plus quinquaginta jugera habere liceret? Ut finguli propè trecentoram civium possiderent agros, plebeio homini vix ad tectum necessarium, aut locum sepulturæ suus pateret ager!” The English and the American reader will, doubtless, feel a painful motion of surprise, should they discover that Montesquieu (of whom the late Earl of Chesterfield has finely remarked, that “his works will illustrate his name, and survive him, as long as right reason, moral obligation and the true Spirit of Laws shall be understood, respected and maintained) experienced the shameful “difficulty of determining” (to use his own words) “whether the insolence with which the plebeians made their demands, or the easy condescension with which the senate granted them was the greatest!” K.
[* ]See the sixth book.
[* ] A cool and ample investigation concerning this subject (of which, however, the narrow limits of a note will not admit) might, perhaps, prove that the generality of the almost unqualified encomiums so bountifully lavished upon the Romans spring rather from the strong impulse of literary fashion than the mature decisions of impartial criticism. The country which, after serious reflexion, could console itself on a resemblance to the Romans in their criminal characteristics, provided that the similitude held equally between them with respect to those actions which bore the marks of greatness, of wisdom and of magnanimity, must be detestably ambitious, and (with an equal share of turpitude and ignorance) content to sacrifice the best emotions of the human heart for the fallacious splendor of a name. Were the Romans happy? Was it fortunate to live at Rome? These are important questions. And some (though not the multitude amongst the more discerning) writers have answered in the negative. Amidst their infant state, were not the Romans, almost perpetually, ambitious in their projects, fierce in their modes of government and ferocious in their manners? What examples to the contrary arose, from the æra of the assassination of Camillus to the proscriptions of Sylla? Were not the succeeding epochs marked by famines, contagions and miseries of every kind? Did not war become desirable? Or, rather (to borrow the fine expression of a modern author) could the tears of the people have been dried up, until the streams of human blood began to flow? Saint Augustin, granting that, perhaps, these continual wars were necessary to the aggrandisement of the Romans, pertinently asks: what individual would wish to acquire a gigantic stature at the expence of his health* ? Look at the revolutions during the time of the Gracchi, of Marius, and of Sylla. Then, did the Romans enjoy a measure of felicity sufficient to make their condition envied and their forms of government admired? What shall we think concerning the sacrifice in war of more than two millions of men, throughout a term of years not far exceeding the usual length of life? Is it possible to reflect without horror on the execution of nineteen thousand criminals at the Lacus Fucinus†? Can we avoid shuddering at the idea that out of forty-two emperors who filled up the interval between Julius Cæsar and Charlemagne, thirty, at least, have died a violent death; and that, amongst these, four committed suicide, and six perished through the intrigues of their favorites, their brothers, their wives and their children? This picture is not overcharged: and groups, disgusting groups remain to fill it up. But, we refer the reader to the description of the manners of the Romans, by Ammianus Marcellinus, in the sixth chapter of his fourteenth book. He will then see how far “even in the moments when their excesses were carried to extremes, their passions were accustomed to associate themselves with justice and with moderation!” K.
[* ] De civitate Dei. lib. 3. cap. 10.
[† ]Suetenius observes that when these miserable victims passed by Claudius, they cried out: “Ave! Imperator! morituri te salutant!” and that the emperor answering, from absence of mind, “Avete vos!” they understood this expression to mean a pardon, and would not engage, until compelled by threats and intreaties . . . It cannot be denied that a generally established custom required that all fugitive slaves should be exposed to wild beasts.